A Review of "Silks and Prints from the Abraham Archive – Couture in Colour" at MOMU

by Philip Warkander Hubert de Givenchy, Winter 1971/72. Photo: Gian Paolo Barbieri. Gazar Brodé Chenille, Winter 1971/72. Silk and entamine, shantung appliqué. Abraham Archive.

In1982, sociologist Howard S. Becker published the book Art Worlds, in which he argued that art is not the production of single individuals – artists – but rather the result of a number of interactions among people and materials, together constituting the contexts in which art works can be defined as such. According to Becker, art is not the result of one person’s work, but is a value constructed according to specific settings, or art worlds. This perspective has become hugely influential in art theory while also having an impact in fashion studies, most notably through sociologist Yunyia Kawamura’s Fashion-ology: An introduction to Fashion Studies (2004). Explaining how fashion comes into being, Kawamura aligns herself with Becker by claiming that fashion should not be understood as the product of designers working in creative isolation in their studios, but instead as the effect of an entire system of interactions, based on the negotiations between designers, stylists, magazine editors, PR consultants, retailers as well as a number of other actors.

Currently on view at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp is an exhibition exploring the effects of this theoretical perspective on the textiles, prints and fabrics manufactured by the Swiss company Abraham Ltd. The exhibition was originally produced by the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, but the Antwerp version (in the museum’s own words) “recaptures and expands” the original version. Placing the materiality of the fabrics and the print designs at the center of the exhibition, the process of producing prints is explained in detail, not only making for a pedagogical but also for an aesthetically advanced display. For example, the exhibition shows how a rose pattern, which was one of the company’s trademark prints, required nine stencils to print nine colors in nine separate print runs. The fabrics produced by Abraham Ltd. were so intricate that they became – due to the high cost of production – often reserved for haute couture, thus establishing intimate interconnections between the Swiss company and French couture houses such as Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. As a result, Abraham Ltd. became one of the key players in the high fashion industry of the twentieth century, their patterns and textiles shaping much of what is otherwise generally assumed to have been designed within the couture houses.

Installation with 20 Abraham scrapbooks, 2010. Abraham Archive

The textile supplier worked closely with Dior haute couture throughout the 1950s, and when Christian Dior passed away, the company’s leader Gustav Zumsteg met Yves Saint Laurent at his funeral, marking the beginning of a partnership that would hugely influence contemporary fashion, ending with Yves Saint Laurent’s last couture collection and the demise of Abraham Ltd, both in 2002.

Abraham’s technical possibilities for producing blow-up prints had a huge impact on the fashion of the 1960s, while the company’s talent for creating animal prints enhanced fashion’s “playwith abstraction and illusion”, as stated in the exhibition texts. Monochrome fabrics show the complexity of the materials, sheen surfaces and raw structures creating unexpected and organic patterns. The exhibition creates a narrative through a textile archive of the recent past, but with a new perspective on the creations of some of the most established and iconic designs. The works of Pierre Cardin, Nina Ricci and Pierre Balmain are exhibited here as products of collaborations, the result of successful partnerships between textile supplier and fashion house. These relationships are explored to their fullest in the small exhibition room named “Abraham Revisited”, in which five contemporary fashion designers (Akris, Peter Pilotto, Dries Van Noten, Heinrich Brambilla and Diane von Furstenberg) selected their favorite fabric and prints from the Abraham archive and then projected these onto mannequins wearing their own iconic designs. The result underlines the power of fabric and patterns, altering the appearance of the fashion designs with each new projection.

Focusing an exhibition on a fabric company unknown to most people outside of the fashion industry might sound like a niche strategy, targeted mainly on those already in-the-know However, the beauty of the materials is overwhelming and the story of this company fascinating, so much so that I was brought to tears as I walked through the exhibition space, in awe of the understated elegance and vivid display of craftsmanship. Also, the mapping of how the fabrics were once shipped to over forty countries (detailing quantities, dates, cities) worldwide chronicles the complexities of the system of high fashion while momentarily bringing back to life all the many individual but largely anonymous actors, without whom the iconic designs of the large couture houses would never have come into existence.

Philip Warkander recently completed his PhD in Fashion Studies, and is currently working as a freelance fashion writer and consultant, while also teaching fashion theory and gender studies in Stockholm.

Silk and Prints from the Abraham Archive. Couture in Colour. Photo: Boy Kortekaas

A Review of "Punk: Chaos to Couture"

by Jay Ruttenberg Gallery View, D.I.Y.: Hardware

Punk fashion, in its purest form, is a gawky Jew from Queens, resplendent in old jeans, snug shirt, long hair, and a chintzy black leather jacket that, depending on the viewer’s perspective, either masks or accentuates the wearer’s geekiness. Anything beyond this uniform—the safety pins, studs, or those storied Mohawks—has always seemed an affront to the music’s minimalism. Worse, it is cheesy.

Or maybe not. Whereas in New York, punk was a witty music and art movement, in London, it quickly became a deathly serious fashion and media one. The Ramones gave their first concerts at a 23rd Street loft and a not-yet-famous Bowery dive bar; the Sex Pistols began their stage life at Central Saint Martins College, the London fashion hub. Hence, despite existing in the city that both birthed and perfected punk, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Punk: Chaos to Couture” exhibition feels much more a piece of London than of New York. This is probably for the best: London punk never offered a rival to Joey Ramone’s pop persona or Tom Verlaine’s musicality—but then, New York did not produce image svengalis in league with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.

Refreshingly, the Costume Institute’s exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, devotes itself almost wholeheartedly to the fashion inspired by punk, predominantly womenswear made in the music’s wake. It never attempts comprehensiveness and avoids Hard Rock Café-isms. (Best to ignore the show’s biggest misstep: a dead-on-arrival, by-now-obligatory recreation of CBGB’s bathroom.) Excepting a room devoted to Westwood’s work—the sloganeering t-shirts of old circling the fancier items that followed—most pieces are from designers not typically associated with punk rock: Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen…. Those punk aesthetes kvetching that the mere existence of this show somehow contradicts the music’s mission are missing the point (or, more likely, confusing the exhibition with Anna Wintour’s tone-deaf party). “Chaos to Couture” seeks to celebrate, not dabble in, cultural tourism. It is not about punk, but about fashion’s belated response to punk.

Gallery View, D.I.Y.: Graffiti & Agitprop

Rooms are divided by influence and material. “D.I.Y.: Hardware” represents the sordid mark of S&M, with gratuitous zippers, ominous padlocks, and other metals—bondage gear for the wealthy, basically. A snippet of the New York Dolls’s “Trash” spins in “D.I.Y.: Bricolage,” a room devoted to customization and recycled materials (i.e., a Margiela ensemble featuring foil and metal staples). The exhibition concludes with “D.I.Y.: Graffiti and Agitpop,” with the Clash as muse, and “D.I.Y.: Destroy,” which is inspired by Johnny Rotten and his awing collection of shredded grandma sweaters. For a viewer such as myself, far more schooled in songs than in garments, exploring how the genre eventually trickled into high fashion is eye-opening. In music, the best punk-influenced bands have always been those that channel elements of the genre into unexpected sounds (say, Beat Happening) rather than those producing mere facsimile. Ditto the more interesting clothing: McQueen’s skull and crossbones or a hokey Elvira get-up from Versace seem rote compared to, say, Moschino’s skirt of white plastic shopping bags, whose playfulness might have been appreciated by X-Ray Spex. A series of puffy cream Comme des Garçons dresses, at the show’s finale, reference the layers favored by punk kids only upon a second or third glance. The effect is striking.

As exemplified by that CB’s bathroom—and will some brave soul please take the Met’s bait and use the toilet?—the exhibition stumbles as it gets cute and veers away from fashion. The museum’s decision to identify famed designers laboring under multinational corporations as “D.I.Y.” is laughable. At times, the exhibition tries too hard to create a punkish aura—the “Graffiti and Agitpop” room resembles the menacing punk rock of a Hollywood backlot. And while it is impossible to be discontent while hearing “Blank Generation,” particularly along Fifth Avenue, the inclusion of background music diminishes the clothing it sets out to contextualize.

How this exhibition is received by New Yorkers remains to be seen. The show has yet to open, and already it has given us the cringe-worthy spectacle of insecure celebrities struggling to add hints of leather or metal to their wardrobes in order to qualify as “punk” for the Costume Gala. Perhaps such behavior flies in London; in New York…yeesh! It’s embarrassing just to think about it. For Chrissake, a punk wears what a punk wears.

A recovering rock critic, Jay Ruttenberg is editor of The Lowbrow Reader and its book, The Lowbrow Reader Reader. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Spin, and Details.

Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950

Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 19 May 2012-6 January 2013

Contemporary Ballgowns

by Jeffrey Horsley

'Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950' is the first temporary exhibition to be held in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s newly restored Octagon Court, a spacious gallery with a high, domed ceiling, long the home of the Museum’s Fashion Galleries. Curated by Oriole Cullen, Curator of Modern Textiles & Fashion, and Sonnet Stanfill, Curator of Twentieth Century & Contemporary Fashion, the exhibition comprises over 60 outfits by British-based fashion designers from the 1950s to the present day, combining items drawn from the Museum’s holdings alongside loans from designers. The exhibition is staged in two sections; ‘Ballgowns Since 1950’ on the ground floor, ‘Contemporary Ballgowns’ on the mezzanine level. The press release proposes that the sections evoke respectively ‘the excitement of preparing for a ball in a grand country house’ and ‘the glamour of the red carpet or a couture presentation.’

‘Ballgowns Since 1950’ is staged in a low-ceilinged space defined by large, fixed vitrines. Exhibits are organised chromatically, with cases themed to gowns in black and red, black and emerald, acid yellows, fawn and pinks, blues and ivories. This is a particularly effective strategy, exerting a visual harmony across garments from different periods designed for different occasions. Case interiors are painted a sympathetic pastel tone with either a matching carpet or black and white tile-effect flooring. Several vitrines have backgrounds of photographic reproductions of gilded panelling from the Music Room of Norfolk House, London. Many cases present two-dimensional, cut-out images of furniture and fittings evocative of eighteenth century English town house décor, with rear-mounted LEDs casting a glowing aura around each image.

On the mezzanine level, a floor-plan unencumbered by fixed display cases and circumscribed by an open railing creates a gallery that appears to float beneath the expansive dome of the Octagon Court. Here, ‘Contemporary Ballgowns’ is arranged on three runway-like podia, each set under skeletal metal-framed cupolas clad with white net that echo the architecture of the gallery and hint at the bell-like skirt of the traditional ballgown. Inside each construction hangs an illuminated stylised chandelier, composed of flat, fret-cut panels. The podia are surrounded by strings of giant pearls with slowly revolving mannequins poised on several of the pearls.

Ballgowns Since 1950

Retail-type mannequins, finished in a pale-grey colour, without indication of make-up or hair-style, are used throughout. The mannered poses of the mannequins, often incongruous in exhibitions of more humble attire, appear fitting in the presentation of these extravagant outfits - their affected gestures conveying a sense of artifice that reflects the theatricality of the situations for which the gowns are intended. Notably, a striding mannequin, head held high and arms spread wide spectacularly displays a kaftan-like dress by Yuki, in raspberry-pink silk chiffon from 1972. Two further tableaux (reminiscent of the fashion photography of Tim Walker, who shot the image for the exhibition poster) are particularly effective; a mannequin in strips of red and grey silk chiffon, by Amanda Wakeley straddles a chandelier which has seemingly crashed to the floor; a figure wearing a pink and dark fawn silk satin gown by Hardy Amies languishes over a sofa which is represented as a photographic cut-out, with a pair of similarly rendered greyhounds adding to the chic elegance of the scene.

Ballgowns - Yuki

The schizophrenic qualities of the two exhibition spaces are a challenge to establishing a distinctive, unified atmosphere for the exhibition. The exhibition designer, Emily Pugh (trained as a window dresser at London’s Selfridges department store), manages to exert an aesthetic continuity through the application of a minimal colour scheme and repetition of the photographic cut-out device. Whilst achieving an impression of elegance the staging does not completely achieve the dynamic energy promised by the occasions it sets out to evoke. The ubiquitous pale grey and the two-dimensionality of the photographic props, coupled with the mannequins’ unflinching gaze cast over the visitor’s head, determines an overall effect of cool hauteur. The theatrical energy and social dynamics inherent in the locations of privileged interior and star-studded première the exhibition purports to replicate are sadly lacking.

Notably absent from the mise-en-scène are those supporting players whose attendance underlies narratives of class and gender. There is no male escort for instance, the tuxedo-wearing presence that represents both aesthetic foil (the ‘inconspicuous dark suit provides the ideal matt background before which “she” can really spring into life, with the brilliance of silk, the sparkle of jewels, the shimmer of naked skin’, as Barbara Vinken describes) and counter-part in culturally-specified gender roles. Additionally, there is no maid-servant, dresser or personal assistant, whose uniformly black-clad presence again provides aesthetic contrast and indicates narratives of class and wealth. Instead, the scenography realised for Ballgowns offers a cast of leading characters who shimmer, in alluring isolation, against ornamental backdrops.

Ballgowns - Amanda Wakeley

The scenographic concept and the curatorial narrative of Ballgowns propose complex socio-cultural settings without investigating those issues of class, gender, consumption and display inherent in the suggested scenarios. The gendered dynamics of events that, according to exhibition text panels ‘oblige the wearer to present herself at her finest’ and ‘leave little room for misjudgements of taste’, pass without critical comment. On the ground floor, the clothed mannequins are positioned alongside images of antique furniture and over-scaled precious jewels, apparently as comparable trophies reflecting wealth and connoisseurship. This scenographic juxtaposition appears to articulate the couture-clad woman as decorative ornament, to be displayed, collected and owned. As Vinken notes, ‘Thorstein Veblen characterized the woman of the nineteenth century…as mobilia, as the mobile property of her husband.’ Ballgowns side-steps the opportunity to engage with those potentially controversial but compelling and complex narratives that are embedded in the scenarios it presents. The exhibition strives to invoke, without criticism, a rarefied world where beauty is the great leveller. As the Italian couturier Valentino confides: ‘like I love a beautiful lady, like I love a beautiful dog, like I love a beautiful piece of furniture. I love beauty…it is not my fault.’

Even the symbiosis of glamour and celebrity that is central to the exhibition’s theme, yet which cultural theorist and author Elizabeth Wilson articulately proposes as ‘polar opposites’, is left unexplored by the curators - although not by the designers themselves. A striking gown by Gareth Pugh, for instance, provokes the viewer to reconsider the popular vision of red carpet glamour. Constructed from loops of silver coated leather that descend from a raised, eye-level collar to a floor skimming hem, Pugh’s ensemble stretches the conventional ideal of the ballgown to breaking point. Its shimmering, carapace-like appearance returns to the essence of Wilson’s notion of glamour as a scintillating, mystical, illusory force. This gown stands in emphatic contradiction to the notion of body (and soul) baring glamour that Wilson berates and that ‘red-carpet’ dresses often display. Pugh’s construction is exemplary, and representative of the tour de force design and execution that is the heart of Ballgowns.

Ballgowns - Gareth Pugh

As Gareth Pugh’s contribution illustrates, what is remarkable in this selection is how designers draw on the tradition of the ‘statement’ dress and transform it into a vehicle for technical experimentation. This is particularly evident on the upper floor, where gowns by McQueen, Galliano and Westwood are presented alongside inventive work from relative newcomers; Craig Lawrence’s nest-like concoction of knitted gold and silver foil; Nicholas Oakwell’s digitally-printed silk zibeline gown depicting swirling galaxies; Atsuko Kudo’s lace-printed floor length latex sheath. While the avoidance of engaging critically with contextual narratives might be levelled as a short-coming of the exhibition, the strength of Ballgowns lies in the undeniable quality and sheer invention of the designs on display. Ultimately, Ballgowns is a celebration of British design and craftsmanship and it offers a captivating and expertly edited cross-section of the best of innovative, extravagant British fashion.


Text / Jeffrey Horsley © Images / Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 V&A Images © Sponsored by Coutts

1Barbara Vinken, ‘Transvesty – Travesty: Fashion and Gender’, in Fashion Theory, Volume 3, Issue 1 (New York: Berg, 1999) 37. 2 Vinken, 37. 3 Matt Tyrnauer, Valentino: The Last Emperor (Toronto: Phase 4 Films, 2009). 4 Elizabeth Wilson, ‘A Note on Glamour’, in Fashion Theory, Volume 11, Issue 1 (New York: Berg, 2007) 95-108.

Innovative Exhibition Design Strategies for Cristóbal Balenciaga and Comme des Garçons at Musée Galliera

Balenciaga Cape du soir, 1963 and Collier c.1895

There couldn’t be a more unlikely exhibition venue than Aux Docks - cité de la Mode et du Design in Paris. At the other end of town from Musée Galliera's permanent home, which is currently under renovation, this temporary venue sits in a gritty industrial part of town overlooking the river Seine.  This contemporary space has exposed  concrete walls, punctuated by industrial pipes and has been the temporary home for the musée Galliera  exhibition of Cristóbal Balenciaga, collectionneur de modes and Comme des Garçons White Drama. Two adjacent long and narrow rooms served as the exhibition space. Bringing fashion into these blank, cold, industrial boxes must have been a curatorial challenge, since there is an apparent lack of temperature and humidity controls as well as absence of hangable wall space. Nevertheless, Olivier Saillard and his team of the Gallieria rose to the challenge with display techniques that are as innovative as they are creative and the result are two tightly curated exhibitions featuring selected works of two notable designers - Cristóbal Balenciaga, collectionneur de modes and Comme des Garçons White Drama.

Balenciaga Installation Shot by Ingrid Mida

In the first room, Cristóbal Balenciaga's personal archive of historical garments, print material and other artifacts is presented beside selected examples of his work. This personal archive was recently donated to the museum and  includes a range of items from the nineteenth century such as dresses, collars, corsets, shawls, mantles, capes, as well as fashion plates, books and journals. Set alongside Balenciaga's design work, the reinterpretation of fashion history for design inspiration is made evident. Key to the creation of this link is the innovative display techniques, incorporating modular drawers with clear protective insets, which sit underneath cube-like metal vitrines. The drawers are stacked in fixed position, but open, suggesting links between adjacent pieces. For example, beaded and embroidered black capes and mantalets from the late nineteenth century are shown alongside a Balenciaga cape du soir from 1960, and a 1945 jacquette de soir. The shapes, colours and beading techniques are remarkably similar, and creating links through time and history. Although there is minimal text, none is needed; the objects speak for themselves.

Balenciaga Exhibition, Installation Shot by Ingrid Mida

What I found startling about this exhibition is not the link of inspiration with creative result, but rather the creativity of display. Clothing is not only shown on conventional mannequins, but also presented in clear plexi-topped drawers, as flat storage in clear boxes, or hanging from padded hangers. The flat display in clear boxes offers a contemporary solution for delicate historic garments that might otherwise never be put on display, as well as circumventing the need for custom mannequins. The modular metal units have a slightly mirror like quality that creates a ghost-like reflection of the backs of the garments, as well as creating synchronicity with the industrial setting of the venue.

Comme des Garcons White Drama, Installation Shot by Ingrid Mida

The adjacent room presents Comme des Garçons White Drama an exhibition of thirty white garments by Rei Kawakubo in futuristic white plastic bubbles. Whether these bubbles were designed protect the garments from pollution or for artistic effect, the choice was an inspired one. Within the bubbles, between three to six blank-faced white mannequins wear white garments. Devoid of colour, except for a few pieces with hand-painted graffiti, the focus is on the sculptural elements created by draping, folding, sculpting, and crinoline-like additions to the forms.

Comme des Garçons Installation Shot by Ingrid Mida

Although Rei Kawakubo denies that what she creates is art, these garments are wearable art. With protuberances of crinoline-like skirt structures, webs of crochet, or bags of flowers, these pieces might be wearable, but not for by anyone with a wallflower personality. Donning such a garment would be suggestive of performance art. Adding to this impression of fashion as art are the unique headdresses “worn” by the mannequins. Created out of disparate materials, ranging from what looks like could be white steel wool, pillowcases or spray on Styrofoam, these headdresses act as sculptural elements unto themselves. The overall effect is futuristic and surreal.

Balenciaga Installation Shot by Ingrid Mida

Some have argued that fashion becomes art when it is presented inside the context of a museum. In absence of conventional museum space, the curatorial team of the Galliera has used innovative presentation techniques within an industrial space that redefines exhibition design strategy. A pristine white box is no longer a prerequisite and in fact, it seems that embracing the challenges of unlikely and difficult spaces can offer opportunities for curatorial and exhibition design innovation.

This exhibition ends on October 7, 2012. For more information, visit 


Prada and Schiaparelli: Impossible Conversations

by Ingrid Mida

It seemed like it would be an impossible task to match the Costume Institute’s McQueen blockbuster of last summer with an equaling compelling and aesthetically engaging display. Nonetheless, curators Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda achieved the impossible in their latest exhibition called Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. In this witty and provocative installation, they have set a new bar for curation of fashion by their creative use of technology and their innovative juxtaposition of fashion from the past and the present.

Waist Up - Waist Down Gallery

Although Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and Miuccia Prada (b. 1949) came from different eras, they both challenged cultural norms and expressed their unconventional ideas about beauty and femininity through fashion. Koda and Bolton developed themes that reflected the two women’s shared interests and visual aesthetics, but also identified their different approaches to design by creating imagined conversations between the two designers. It is in this novel approach to animating the exhibition, which reminds us that garments reflect the ideas and attitudes of their creators and are designed for living bodies.

Surreal Body Gallery

Taking inspiration from Miguel Covarrubias’s “Impossible Interviews” for Vanity Fair in 1930s, the imagined conversations are presented in the context of a dinner party with Miuccia Prada sitting at one end of the dining table and Elsa Schiaparelli at the other. The script for their conversations was developed from the text from the 1950s autobiography by Schiaparelli and from interviews with Prada that suggest a real-time response. Schiaparelli’s part is played by an actress and Prada responds as herself. Their imagined conversations seem like good-natured arguments between two friends, infusing the installation with whimsy and a cheeky playfulness.

The exhibition has a modernist, clean aesthetic and includes ninety designs and thirty accessories from the two designers. In general, the rooms are dark putting a spotlight on the video presentations, and creating focal points through selective lighting of the outfits on display. Mannequins act as blank canvases for the garments and are organized in thematic groupings of Waist Up/Waist Down, Hard Chic, Ugly Chic, Naif Chic, and aspects of the Dressed Body. There is an aesthetic coherence to the four rooms, providing a unifying element for what could easily have become a chaotic mess without the tight editing and restraint that Koda and Bolton have demonstrated in this visually appealing installation. Although Schiaparelli's lobster dress and skeleton dress are not on display, the exhibition cleverly makes reference to these iconic garments and conveys the whimsy, irony and unconventional nature of these important designers.

Exotic Gallery View

In another stroke of brilliance, the curators commissioned Guido Palau to make customized masks for the mannequins. These masks, each unique and exquisitely embellished, add an element of surreal fantasy to the display, as well as unifying the presentation. These masks often play off the design elements within the garments themselves. For example the mask accompanying the gown for the Tear Dress, 1938 by Schiaparelli and Dali, includes a Dali moustache.

Naif Chic Gallery View

As a whole, the exhibition gives the viewer cause to consider the nature of fashion and art. At the press preview Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  said “Schiaparelli’s collaborations with Dali and Cocteau as well as Prada’s Fondazione Prada push art and fashion ever closer, in a direct, synergistic, and culturally redefining relationship.” There are also direct references to the two designer’s opinions on the topic and it is clear that this is a point of difference between the two. In the Ugly Chic gallery, Schiaparelli said: “Dress designing…is to me not a profession but an art.” To this Prada responded: “Dress designing is creative, but it is not an art…. But to be honest, whether fashion is art or whether even art is art doesn’t really interest me. Maybe nothing is art. Who cares!” The exhibition closes with an animated conversation between Prada and Schiaparelli on the nature of fashion and art, in which the designers conclude by agreeing to disagree. This part of the exhibition caused me to smile. It seemed to provide another connection to my interest in the intersection of fashion and art, and I recalled my conversations with Harold Koda and other curators on this topic. Imagining my own conversation with Miuccia Prada, I would have suggested to her that instead of “Maybe nothing is art”, maybe everything is or could be art. To that, no doubt she would have responded like she did in the installation: “The term [artist] itself seems old-fashioned. It’s a term that does not relate to modern times. And it’s too confining. What I love about fashion is its accessibility and its democracy. Everyone wears it, and everyone relates to it.” And on that point, we would have agreed.

Prada and Schiaparelli: Impossible Conversationsopens to the public at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 10, 2012 and will run until August 19, 2012.

Photo credits: All photos provided courtesy of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and are subject to copyright.

Ingrid Mida is a Toronto-based artist and writer who is interested in the intersections between fashion, art and history. She has a show called "Constructions of Femininity" opening at Loop Gallery in Toronto on May 26, 2012 and will be speaking at Fashion Tales 2012 in Milan in June 2012 on "The Metaphysics of Blogging".